The Red Badge of Courage Analysis

The Red Badge of Courage (Critical Guide to Censorship and Literature)

The Work

The Red Badge of Courage is a novel in which Henry Fleming, “the Youth,” struggles with the question of whether he will fight or run when he sees his first real battle. After it begins, he stands firm for the first charge, then runs when the Confederate forces charge again. He is ashamed, wishing he had a bloody bandage, a “red badge of courage.” Eventually, he returns to his outfit and becomes an obsessed fighter.

This book was first attacked when it was removed from the American Library Association list of approved books in 1896. However, its removal was more of a response to author Stephen Crane than to the book itself. As Crane was writing The Red Badge of Courage, he published Maggie: A Girl of the Streets, a gritty, realistic look at life in New York’s slums that brought many calls for censorship against Crane. Also, Civil War veterans objected to a young man with no military experience writing detailed battle accounts. Nevertheless, the novel enjoyed a sustained popularity, occasionally being objected to by religious or antiwar and antiviolence groups. In 1985, for example, the superintendent of schools in a Florida community banned The Red Badge of Courage for profanity because it used the word “hell.”

Bibliography:

Bloom, Harold, ed. Stephen Crane’s “The Red Badge of Courage.” New York: Chelsea House, 1987. Examines style, technique, narrative method, and psychological aspects of Crane’s novel. Places the novel in the epic tradition.

Cazemajou, Jean. “The Red Badge of Courage: The ‘Religion of Peace’ and the War Archetype.” In Stephen Crane in Transition: Centenary Essays, edited by Joseph Katz. Dekalb: Northern Illinois University Press, 1972. Finds a balance in the novel between a metaphoric view of war as chaos and confusion, and a view of a world at peace. War and peace function more as archetypes than as realities in the novel.

LaFrance, Marston. A Reading of Stephen Crane. Oxford, England: Clarendon Press, 1971. Identifies Crane’s genius not in creating literary naturalism, but rather in his psychological portrayal of Henry Fleming. Praises Crane’s use of third-person limited point of view.

Mitchell, Lee Clark, ed. New Essays on ‘The Red Badge of Courage.’ New York: Cambridge University Press, 1986. Traces the novel’s evolution; concludes that the original draft served as an outline to be expanded into the 1895 version. Identifies Crane’s abstraction of the Civil War from its historical context as a distinctive contribution to American literature.

Solomon, Eric. Stephen Crane: From Parody to Realism. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1966. Credits Crane with countering a tradition of dashing heroes in war fiction by using parody and with giving the war novel a new form that afterward became the model. Maintains that Crane selects his war stories for their value as fiction, creating rather than reliving war experiences.

The Red Badge of Courage Places Discussed (Critical Guide to Settings and Places in Literature)

Camp

Camp. Encampment of Henry’s regiment where the novel opens. Although the regiment has only been lodged there for a few months, the novel’s initial location seems to Henry to be “sort of eternal camp.” In the opening paragraph, as a fog clears to display the awakening army, roads “grow” in the distance from “long troughs of liquid mud.” The shore of a nearby river is occupied by the enemy, whose campfires glow by night on the ridges of low hills. Sometimes pickets posted as sentries on opposite banks shoot at one another; however, at other times they converse peaceably, their enmity set aside.

The regiment’s lodgings are log-walled huts roofed with folded tents. Cracker boxes serve as furniture, grouped around fireplaces whose chimneys—crudely compounded out of clay and sticks—are inefficient, with the effect that the atmosphere inside each hut is foul with smoke: an omen of the battlefield to come.

Henry’s home

Henry’s home. Henry remembers life on his widowed mother’s dairy farm as an endless round of trudging between the house, the barn, and the fields. He recalls that after enlisting he went to say good-bye to his admiring schoolmates, and that as he walked away from the seminary, along a path between two rows of oaks, a girl watched him from a window; his subsequent journey by railroad to Washington, D.C., seemed to be a hero’s triumph because of the manner in which the troops were greeted at every station. Immediately before the battle, Henry remembers his local village on the day of a circus parade: an exquisitely detailed image that serves as a counterpoint to his chaotic awareness of the battlefield.

Battlefield

Battlefield. Images of the battlefield are compounded from a patchwork series of briefly glimpsed microcosms, each one narrowly confined by the undulations of the ground and the sprawling pine forests that girdle every little cluster of fields. When Henry first sees skirmishers running back and forth across clear ground, continually ducking into and out of trees, while a dark battle line extends across a sunstruck clearing, it seems to him to be entirely the wrong place to fight a battle. The forest appears to him at times to be an ambush-laden trap and at other times a protective haven. Eventually, however, it becomes a mere blur as his regiment is marched through it, emerging periodically into open land chaotically and cacophonously hazed by gunfire and smoke before moving back again.

When Henry hears that his companions have held the position from which he has run away, the forest creepers begin to catch his legs, as if protesting against his movement; he nearly wanders into a swamp before finding a corpse in a quiet “chapel” of pines. The forest remains resistant, brambles impeding his journey back to the battlefield as the creepers had earlier hindered his retreat, until he joins the procession of wounded men. Reunited with his battered regiment, Henry finds the scene initially reminiscent of the aftermath of an orgy, then of a slaughterhouse.

The landscape becomes increasingly hallucinatory thereafter, and it is while searching for an illusory stream that the youth overhears a general giving the order to send the regiment into a suicidal charge. From then on the almost-monochrome landscape is dominated by two flags: the one that the youth takes over from his own color sergeant and the one flying over the position where the retreating enemy leaves behind a pocket of desperate resistance. Between these two encounters the youth looks back in astonishment at the triviality of distances he has covered; it is because his companions are accused of “not going far enough” that they charge with sufficient resolution to capture the enemy flag.

On leaving the battlefield, the youth and the remnant of his regiment pass a “stolid white house”: a symbolic reminder of everything for which they are supposed to be fighting. Although the marching men return to troughs of mud identical to those from which they emerged, they now seem to the youth to be heading toward “prospects of clover”: a vision of the meadowy paradise awaiting them on the far side of the river.

The Red Badge of Courage Historical Context

Memoirs of the Civil War

The war literature of the Civil War era glorified heroism and the courage of soldiers...

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The Red Badge of Courage Literary Style

Point of View

The book is told in third-person from a young recruit's point of view and is a series of sensory...

(The entire section is 925 words.)

The Red Badge of Courage Literary Techniques

In preparation for writing The Red Badge of Courage, Crane studied the Civil War photographs of Matthew Brady and illustrations by...

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The Red Badge of Courage Ideas for Group Discussions

The Red Badge of Courage has long been ranked as an American classic and is standard fare in high school and college literature...

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The Red Badge of Courage Compare and Contrast

1860s: The Southern cotton states, in a pro-secession move to protect their slave-based economy, formed The Confederate...

(The entire section is 249 words.)

The Red Badge of Courage Topics for Further Study

Compare the attitudes of individual soldiers in Crane's battle scenes in The Red Badge of Courage with the attitude of individual...

(The entire section is 71 words.)

The Red Badge of Courage Literary Precedents

The battle of Chancellorsville in northern Virginia, waged from May 1 to May 3, 1863, seems to have been Crane's model for the fictional...

(The entire section is 129 words.)

The Red Badge of Courage Related Titles

Crane's novel Maggie: A Girl of the Streets depicts the embattled lives of people surviving in the New York inner city and the...

(The entire section is 213 words.)

The Red Badge of Courage Adaptations

The Red Badge of Courage was made into a motion picture in 1951 by John Huston, who both directed the film and wrote the screenplay....

(The entire section is 67 words.)

The Red Badge of Courage Media Adaptations

The Red Badge of Courage was adapted as a film by John Huston, starring Audie Murphy, Bill Mauldin, and Andy Devine, Universal, 1951;...

(The entire section is 141 words.)

The Red Badge of Courage What Do I Read Next?

All Quiet on the Western Front by Erich Maria Remarque concerns a young German infantryman's...

(The entire section is 100 words.)

The Red Badge of Courage Bibliography and Further Reading

Sources

Joseph Hergesheimer, "Introduction" 'The Red Badge of Courage', 1895-1924," in The Work of...

(The entire section is 759 words.)

The Red Badge of Courage Bibliography (Masterpieces of American Literature)

Bloom, Harold, ed. Stephen Crane’s “The Red Badge of Courage.” New York: Chelsea House, 1987. Examines style, technique, narrative method, and psychological aspects of Crane’s novel. Places the novel in the epic tradition.

Cazemajou, Jean. “The Red Badge of Courage: The ‘Religion of Peace’ and the War Archetype.” In Stephen Crane in Transition: Centenary Essays, edited by Joseph Katz. Dekalb: Northern Illinois University Press, 1972. Finds a balance in the novel between a metaphoric view of war as chaos and confusion, and a view of a world at peace. War and peace function more as archetypes than as realities in the novel.

LaFrance, Marston. A Reading of Stephen Crane. Oxford, England: Clarendon Press, 1971. Identifies Crane’s genius not in creating literary naturalism, but rather in his psychological portrayal of Henry Fleming. Praises Crane’s use of third-person limited point of view.

Mitchell, Lee Clark, ed. New Essays on ‘The Red Badge of Courage.’ New York: Cambridge University Press, 1986. Traces the novel’s evolution; concludes that the original draft served as an outline to be expanded into the 1895 version. Identifies Crane’s abstraction of the Civil War from its historical context as a distinctive contribution to American literature.

Solomon, Eric. Stephen Crane: From Parody to Realism. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1966. Credits Crane with countering a tradition of dashing heroes in war fiction by using parody and with giving the war novel a new form that afterward became the model. Maintains that Crane selects his war stories for their value as fiction, creating rather than reliving war experiences.